Posted by Kevin on November 4, 2014.
The Times ran a report over the weekend claiming that the Metropolitan Police uses ‘IMSI catchers’, also known as Stingrays, to collect communications from mobile phone users. If you want the details you will need some serious hacking skills, or a Times subscription. But if you just want the gist, you can get it from reports in RT and The Drum (and elsewhere).
According to the Times, the Metropolitan police – which is the country’s biggest force – is deploying devices called IMSI Catchers that can detect the “identity, call and message data of mobile phones” and, at their most powerful, even listen in on conversations and read text messages…
…It goes on to claim that this material is not automatically deleted and therefore police are thought to have stored details of “many thousands” of innocent people’s phone activity.
UK police accused of ‘snooping’ on mobile phone users with secret surveillance technology
The real surprise, however, is that this should be considered news.
Back in 2011/2012, Eric King, deputy director of Privacy international, attempted to use the Freedom of Information Act to get IMSI catcher details from the Met. The full story can be found here and then here.
In October 2011 King requested:
all guidelines, presentations, policy statements, legal opinions, memoranda, briefs, training manuals, emails and any other documents including communications and procurements relating to the use of “IMSI catchers”, “cell site simulators”, “virtual base transceiver stations”, “mobile phone jammers” or similar mobile phone surveillance and tracking devices.
After numerous prevarications from the Met claiming that the request was too costly, too broad or not clear, the Met finally said in January 2012,
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act), this email represents a Refusal Notice for this particular request under Section 17(1).
Note that it was no longer the original request, having morphed during King’s numerous attempts to phrase the request in a format acceptable to the Met — but that’s pretty much the outcome.
At one point King helpfully told the Met, “More information about IMSI Catchers and their acquisition by the Metropolitan Police Service can be found in this recent guardian article…”
If you still have any doubts over the accuracy of these allegations, I also refer to the book Advanced Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Operations written by Dr Robert Girod. It includes this helpful explanation:
IMSI catchers, such as the one purchased by the London Metropolitan Police, allow authorities to shut off targeted phones remotely and gather data about thousands of users in a specific area. They can force phones to release their unique IMSI and IMEI identity codes, which can then be used to track a person’s movements in real time. They can be slipped into a suitcase and used almost anywhere to spy on mobile phone communications. IMSI catchers are high-tech portable devices used by law enforcement agencies across the world to secretly intercept conversations and text messages.
The only ‘new’ piece of information in the Times report is that the Met keeps hold of all the innocent conversations. But that should be no surprise either considering the difficulty innocent suspects have had in getting themselves removed from the police DNA database. Information is a currency that law enforcement rarely abandons.
IMSI catchers are small, portable and inexpensive. I suspect they were drafted in soon after the London riots specifically to be able to monitor organized riots and used indiscriminately ever since. I suspect they are also widely used by other police forces in large urban areas. I would not be surprised if the Met has a network of these devices covering the greater part of London just as there is a network of CCTV cameras doing similar.Submitted in: News, News_privacy, News_surveillance |